With their first two picks in the 2012 NFL draft spent with Friday’s blockbuster trade to the St. Louis Rams, the Washington Redskins — who already figured to be active on the free agent market — are likely to step up their efforts to add the players critical to improving this season.
The addition of an elite rookie quarterback — most likely Baylor’s Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III — and $40 million to spend under the NFL’s $120.6 million salary cap should help their chances of landing a top wide receiver, a right tackle, a left guard and perhaps a cornerback and a safety when free agency opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
“We thought it was important to do [the trade with St. Louis] before free agency to allow us the proper planning, and to know what you’re going to get with your first pick in the draft,” said Redskins general manager Bruce Allen. “ It gives you great comfort and allows us to execute the gameplan that we developed in early January.
After failing to produce a 1,000-yard receiver and managing only two plays in which a pass-catcher ran in for a touchdown last season, the Redskins’ top priority appears to be a playmaker wideout.
Fortunately for them, this year’s free agent class boasts good depth at the position. The Redskins are expected to aggressively court San Diego’s Vincent Jackson, whom the Chargers are likely to let go rather than meet his contract demands.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Jackson is coming off of a 60-catch, 1,106-yard, nine-touchdown season. He instantly would become Washington’s biggest and most explosive target.
But the competition for Jackson is likely to be intense. Eight teams may try to get him, including the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The bidding could produce a contract that some in the league estimate could reach $12 million per year.
If the Redskins fail to lure Jackson to the team, they could go after New Orleans’ Marques Colston or Indianapolis’ Pierre Garcon. Speedy Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem also is an unrestricted free agent.
A starting right tackle ranks as the Washington offense’s next biggest need. The team re-signed Jammal Brown to a five-year, $20.25 million contract last July. But the same hip that required surgery in 2008 and forced Brown out of the 2009 campaign continued to cause the seven-year veteran problems last season.
Brown has spent the offseason rehabilitating the injury, but Redskins’ officials still are expected to seek another right tackle. Seattle’s Paul McQuistan, who played in a zone-blocking scheme nearly identical to Washington’s, could be an option.
At left guard, Kory Lichtensteiger started last season and showed significant improvement over 2010. But in Week 6, he tore his ACL and MCL. He had surgery and still is working his way back. The Redskins, who believe he will be fully recovered by the start of training camp, extended him a restricted free agent tender on March 2. But the team still could look for help, and Baltimore’s Ben Grubbs, who played for current Redskins offensive line coach Chris Foerster in 2007, may draw consideration.
With Rex Grossman a free agent and John Beck and Jonathan Crompton the only passers under contract, Washington may seek a veteran backup quarterback. People familiar with the Redskins deliberations have cited Kyle Orton as a target, but the likelihood of Griffin coming to town raises questions about whether a veteran with the opportunity to start elsewhere would want to join the Redskins.
The top priority on defense remains re-signing inside linebacker and team captain London Fletcher. The soon-to-be 37-year-old will be entering his 15th NFL season, but has shown no signs of aging. Last season Fletcher led the NFL with 166 tackles, recording three forced fumbles, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks. Coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett have stressed the importance of retaining Fletcher, who wants to stay with the team. But so far, the two sides haven’t been able to agree to a deal.
Allen said Saturday that talks continue, and he remains hopeful that Fletcher will remain a Redskin. But Fletcher will hit the open market Tuesday afternoon unless Washington signs him before then.
“I had discussions with his agent over the last month or two,” Allen said. “We’ll see what happens. I’m not going hide...the fact that we love London. We hope he’s a Redskin.”
Defensive end Adam Carriker, who started at left end and is coming off a career season, also remains unsigned. Carriker said he wants to return to the Redskins, but also is excited about the interest he expects to draw in free agency if no deal is reached. Backup Jarvis Jenkins, who was out all of last season with a torn ACL, is expected to be at full-speed for offseason workouts.
Strong safety LaRon Landry’s contract also has expired, but his ability to earn a new deal remains in question. Landry ended the 2011 season on injured reserve with an injured left Achilles’ tendon for a second straight season. He declined to have surgery that could have sidelined him for a year, and hopes to use alternative medicine to return to the form that had him in the running for defensive MVP in 2010. But he has yet to receive clearance to run.
The Redskins are wary of giving the five-year veteran a big contract because of the uncertainty of his health, and likely will wait to see how much interest Landry generates on the open market. Landry has said he might be willing to sign a one-year deal with Washington to prove that he has fully recovered in 2012, but that could change if another team is willing to gamble on him.
If Landry does not return, Washington could need a strong safety. Oshiomogho Atogwe remains under contract at free safety, and Reed Doughty and DeJon Gomes both saw time at strong safety last year, but the Redskins must consider whether either can get the job done on a full-time basis.
Although the Redskins have DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson at cornerback, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them make a run at another, considering their defensive backs tallied only seven interceptions last season. The top corner on the market is Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan, who figures to draw interest from a number of teams and reportedly wants to sign for the same team as his good friend Jackson.
The Redskins are looking for more consistentcy at nickelback and one possible target is four-year pro Elbert Mack, who has spent his entire career playing for new Redskins’ secondary coach Raheem Morris in Tampa Bay. Another of Morris’s former players — strong safety Sean Jones, an eight-year veteran who last season recorded 92 tackles and a sack — also could draw interest from the Redskins.
Staff writer Mark Maske contributed to this report.